George Floyd protests

New Philly committee will examine systemic racism and root causes of poverty, mayor vows

Members include youth, clergy and other community leaders.

Officer Quishanna Lee (left) knelt with protesters during the summer 2020 protests

Officer Quishanna Lee (left) knelt with protesters during the summer 2020 protests

Layla Jones / Billy Penn
michaelawinberg-2020-2

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After six days of protests over police brutality across the city, Mayor Jim Kenney is establishing a steering committee to review issues that disproportionately affect people of color and LGBTQ people in Philadelphia.

So far, the group’s mission is vague, and many details remain unclear, including how success will be measured. But the mayor called it a “next step” in moving forward as a community.

“Yesterday we took a very small step toward reconciliation with the removal of the Rizzo statue,” Kenney said. The controversial monument to a former mayor known for use of violence was removed in the early morning hours on Wednesday from its decades-long spot in front of the Municipal Services Building.

“The voices of those who have taken to the streets, their cries of anguish and demands to be heard, have led us to this point,” Kenney said. “Launching this effort and forming this group, we pledge to do better.”

The new group will focus not only on solutions to public safety and criminal justice — which have been the central themes of this week’s demonstrations — but also poverty, “structural violence,” and other systemic forms of discrimination built into city policy, the mayor said.

Three committee members have already been selected:

Andrews promised to hold Mayor Kenney’s feet to the fire.

“We will hold the administration accountable for what they said they would do,” Andrews said Thursday. “I’m looking forward to moving the city in the right direction.”

Forming a group like this is a common strategy among city government officials. Oftentimes when presented with big, complex issues, Philly’s elected officials will establish a task force or a working group of experts to discuss them.

Problem is, the concrete results aren’t always obvious — if they occur at all.

In 2018, Billy Penn identified more than a dozen task forces and committees established in Philadelphia, some of which have dragged on for years with no end in sight. Others generated reports packed with policy recommendations that have since gathered dust in City Hall.

For now, Kenney told reporters his administration has not yet come up with specific ways to measure the group’s success.

Cynthia Figueroa, who heads up the city’s new Office of Children and Families, is among those at the helm of the group. She promised to establish legit ways to measure success — and report that all to the public.

“We don’t want to set benchmarks without listening first,” Figueroa said. “The benchmarks will be based on what the community tells us is most critical, and what’s realistic.”

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